30 Tips for Doing Your Own Taxes

By Valerie Rind

GoBankingRates, Feb. 17, 2016

Don’t be intimidated. You’ve got this.

With tax filing season well underway, you might feel like you’re getting buried in the details, especially if you’re doing your own taxes. In addition to all the information you need to gather and file properly, there are new rules to be aware of, too.

Even if you think you’re on top of your 2015 taxes, it’s always a good idea to review the basics and get the updates. Click through for 31 practical tips to keep in mind when filing your taxes this year.

1. Find Out if You Need to File

First, if you need help determining whether you’re required to file a federal income tax return this year, you can use the IRS’s online Interactive Tax Assistant. You need to answer a few basic questions about your filing status, gross income and whether you had federal income tax withheld. The first question asks you which tax year you’re asking about. Make sure you select 2015.

2. Gather Social Security Numbers

The first bit of information you need to prepare any tax return is your Social Security number, the nine-digit piece of information that follows you around for your whole life. “Make sure you have the Social Security numbers for yourself, spouse and all dependents. Also, some credits, [such as the Child and Dependent Care Credit], require SSNs or other ID numbers in order to claim,” said Kay Bell, tax journalist at the blog Don’t Mess With Taxes.

3. Determine Your Filing Status

Your filing status is based on what your marital status was on Dec. 31, 2015, and it applies to all of tax year 2015. There are five possibilities:

Single
Married filing jointly
Married filing separately
Head of household
Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child
The laws of the state where you lived on Dec. 31, 2015, determine whether you were married or legally separated. If you legitimately fit into more than one category, pick the one that requires you to pay the least amount of taxes.

4. Review Your 2014 Returns

Pull out your federal and state tax returns from the previous year. The information will help you start your 2015 tax return, because some of your entries will be the same. Other entries will prompt you for missing information or forms you need to collect.

Also, you might find you need to make changes if you had important life events that happened in 2015. That includes things like getting married, divorced, having a child, going to school or changing jobs.

5. Gather Your Documents

Starting the process of preparing your tax return might seem overwhelming. The first step is to gather all the data that applies to your situation.

For income information, you’ll need the forms you received from your employer and banks, which might include some of the following: Form W-2 (wages); 1099-INT (interest), 1099-DIV (dividends); 1099-B (investment sales); Combined 1099 (brokerage combined tax statement); 1099-MISC (independent contractor work, royalties); 1099-R (retirement distributions); K-1 (MLP, Partnership or S-Corp share of income); SSA-1099 (Social Security benefits); 1099-G (unemployment benefits and state tax returns); W-2G (gambling winnings); and 1099-C (forgiven debt).

Next, if you had any adjustments to income, you might need any of the following: Form 1098-E (student loan interest); 5498 (IRA contributions); 5498-SA (HSA/MSA contributions); and 1098-T (tuition).

Finally, if you itemize your deductions or receive tax credits, you might need forms such as: 1098 (mortgage interest); 1099-LTC (long-term care benefits); 1099-SA (HSA/MSA distribution); 1095-A (insurance marketplace statement); 1095-B (health coverage); 1095-C (employer-provided insurance coverage). You’ll also need any personal receipts for expenses such as charitable contributions, unreimbursed employer business expenses, medical expenses and moving expenses.

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